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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Back to Main Street

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: It had been twelve years since my last visit to this location, and I’d forgotten a restaurant sat at this spot – I’d missed its interlude as an Italian eatery. Here’s the recent review, followed by what I wrote in 2002.


“DID YOU KNOW there’s a restaurant there?” My friend Malcolm had driven to the Round Lake area to meet me for a rehearsal, and spotted an attractive-looking barn on a rural Main Street north of Clifton Park. It was only when we ventured there for dinner that evening that I recognized the place as a restaurant I reviewed a dozen years ago, a place then called Crabapple Farm Restaurant.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Now it’s the Main Street Grille. It’s got the same owners, and the menu is reminiscent of its former days—but there are significant, and worthy, differences.

The story, as described by co-owner Karen Esposito, is that she and her husband, John, decided to get out of the business some years ago and leased the space to Fabio’s Italian Restaurant, which operated there for about five years until relocating.

“Then my husband wanted to get back into the business,” says Karen, her tone of voice acknowledging how crazy that sounds. “We decided to do it again but to change a few things.”

In its previous incarnation, the Espositos offered more of a fine-dining menu on Fridays and Saturdays than during the rest of week—and weekends also had a jazz duo on tap for entertainment. “We were doing most of our business, and making most of our income those days,” she says, “so we designed a menu for the Main Street Grille that offers fine-dining options every night, as well as some lower-priced pub fare.”

And the same duo is back, so you can enjoy Carmine and Bill Pezzula taking you through the great American songbook on weekends. This I didn’t know when Malcolm and I visited, which was on a quiet Thursday night, placing us near the historic building just as the sun disappeared and the cold winds grew even colder. We walked past a casual, accommodating bar area en route to a table in a dining room that’s darkly paneled and lit with tasteful discretion. Some of the walls are decorated with record album sleeves where once dwelt discs of Benny Goodman, Count Basie and other jazz greats. The music playing as we were seated featured (Hoosick Falls native) Ray Eberle singing with the Glenn Miller band.

“That’s from my father,” says Karen. “He loved that music, and inherited his records and his love for them. And I’m so happy to see younger people—I mean people in their 30s—enjoying this music, too.”

The Main Street Grille is in the hamlet of Elnora, north of Clifton Park’s shopping-mall epicenter but close enough to offer one of the few non-chain dinner alternatives. You know, deep in your heart, that it’s long since been time for you to give up the prefab ambiance and prefab flavors of the prefab food that remains inexplicably popular. This could be a persuasive step. You’re probably going to pay a little more, but not much, and you’re supporting local suppliers.

The Lite Fare menu includes chicken wings, of course, 10 for $9, available with three heat levels of sauce or in Cajun or barbecue dressings. Battered mushrooms ($8) are served in a conical wire french fries container, and they provide an appealing contrast between the hot fried-batter crust with the escargot-like mushroom inside. And they’re served with a ramekin of terrific horseradish sauce so appealing that Malcolm commandeered it for his burger.

He ordered from the burger-platter menu page, which offers a hot roast-beef-based French dip ($13) along with some burger variants, including a build-your-own option ($10 plus a buck for each added component). Much as he claims to enjoy a good burger, he asked that the centerpiece of his Black and Bleu Bistro Burger Platter ($13) be cooked medium, which I insist compromises the flavor (and encourages the meatpacking industry to sell us bad beef). But he was delighted with the blue-cheese crust, the large Kaiser roll, the onions, the fries.

Other sandwich options include a couple of turkey types, grilled chicken and a non-French roast beef assembly ($10-$11). Among the starters on the regular dinner menu are bruschetta ($9), chicken satay ($10), shrimp grilled ($9) or cocktailized ($12), a version of French onion soup with provolone ($6) and some salads. I’m glad to see that the crab cakes have persisted from the old menu (I enjoyed them 12 years ago) to the new ($23). Back then there were eight entrées; now there are nearly 20, including bourbon-pecan chicken ($21), baked haddock ($22), scallop and shrimp asiago, served with fettucine ($26), a massively wide rib-eye steak that I saw go by only after I’d ordered ($28) and a massively tall apricot balsamic pork chop that I ditto ($24).

Because I wanted to dive into that nexus of sauce and crisp and cheese and crunch that is chicken parmigiana ($18), served with penne. Everything about it was satisfying, with a sauce boasting a delicious brightness of tomato that isn’t always the case. (“My husband insists on making those sauces from scratch,” explains Karen, noting that his time in the kitchen keeps him out of everyone’s way.)

Clifton Park has spread its suburban tentacles during the past dozen years, and the easy availability of GPS and online maps means that finding this restaurant no longer is a challenge. You only need to know that it’s there, and now you do. The friendly service reflects the family-centric nature of the place; the number of customers greeted by name reflects impressive recidivism. But next time, I’m going for the music.

Main Street Grille, 857 Main St., Clifton Park, 877-8202, Serving dinner 5-9:30 Tue-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 30 January 2014


ON A BLEAK WINTER NIGHT the stretch of lonely street looks forbidding, and even after I parked in the restaurant’s well-lit lot I was startled when a locomotive appeared beside me with a sudden burst of noise – the tracks are that close.

Crabapple Farm sits in the hamlet of Elnora, now a component of sprawling Clifton Park, where once upon a time a grist mill thrived. Karen and John Esposito took over the mill building five years ago to run the gift shop that evolved into the present restaurant.

Fine dining options in the Clifton Park area are few. As more and more shopping areas have landed, so too have the chains and franchises with their market researched homogeneity. While Crabapple Farm owner Karen Esposito is the first to pooh-pooh the idea that hers is a fancy restaurant, it’s too friendly and comfortable – and the food is too good – to regard it any other way.

Karen’s son, Terry changed careers from over-the-road trucking to onto-the-stove cooking to helm the kitchen, along with his sister, Tina Van Buskirk, who brings experience as a cake designer with the French Confection.

The mystery of service is solved here with an enthusiasm that bids fair to progress to an even higher, more accomplished level. We saw a floor staff busily – even happily – ferrying items between kitchen and customers. Servers were well-spoken and we never felt neglected. I’d like to see the staff work even more closely together, covering all the tables (which they may do on a busier night. I visited on a slower mid-week evening).

The concise menu presents the usual meats and pasta, but each of the eight entrées puts an original spin on the components. A daily soup ($3) is one of four appetizers; we tried two of the others and have nothing but good to report.

Crab cakes, available both as an appetizer ($8) and an entrée ($20), sport the highest proportion of crabmeat that I’ve tasted in such a cake in recent memory (Karen guesses it to be about 80 percent). Laced with a Dijon mustard sauce that lends a hint of pungent spiciness, even the single cake served as a starter makes for hearty eating.

I’ll confess that I ordered the baked artichoke dip ($8) to quiet the restless appetites at the table, figuring it would be the usual compote of cream cheese and spinach with a few artichoke hearts floating within. Not so. For once, the artichoke dip actually was about artichokes, and there were lots of them – the hearts, that is – in a buttery, creamy sauce with the flavor of parmesan cheese, served in a small casserole dish surrounded by crackers. Good crackers, that is, rich and wheaty.

A basket of warm rolls also hit the table right off the bat – buttery, yeasty rolls that proved incredibly alluring. When the post-appetizer salads arrived, we had to ask for more rolls to maintain a desirable bread-to-lettuce ratio. Those salads, too, have been thought out with care and arrive as a reasonable portion of fresh mixed greens not at all overwhelmed by the dressings (I sampled a good blue cheese).

Two of the most popular entrées are tenderloin en croute ($23), a personal-sized beef Wellington, and champagne-poached salmon in a vanilla cream sauce ($20). Next time I visit, I’ll sample both. In this case, I was drawn to the pork tenderloin ($19) because I liked the idea of the spicy plum sauce it’s served with. And the flavor more than rewarded my choice – it’s a great combo, maintaining pork’s traditional pair-me-with-fruit identity while ratcheting up with heat a bit. And it didn’t hurt that the meat was encrusted with crushed pistachios. Sides of mashed potatoes and green beans were simple and effective.

Chicken marsala ($18) and rib-eye steak ($20) continue the meatstuffs; grilled swordfish ($17) and seafood fettuccine ($20) net you more seafood, and the last-named proved to be a large serving of pasta with a simple cream sauce and generous servings of shrimp and scallops, with red pepper slices among the added vegetables. Once again, simplicity worked to the advantage of this dish.

The restaurant is housed in a historic building nicely adapted to its present use. Once Karen and her husband, John, decided to buy the place and make the changes, they were forced to close for 14 months to satisfy the various requirements while still respecting the building’s heritage. It’s on its way to a listing on the National Register.

Near the 50-seat dining room is a comfortable 22-seat bar (you can dine there) where wine and beer are served, and they’re not planning to go beyond that. It was a nice place to await the rest of my party, and it’s especially nice on Friday and Saturday nights, I’m told, when jazz performers entertain with the standards.

We didn’t linger for coffee or dessert, but I was told that what’s not made in-house comes from J & S Watkins, whose cheesecakes have won deserved renown. But I’m also told that Tina is a wizard with chocolate, so I’ll be looking forward to some such on my next visit.

Dinner for two, with tax and tip and a couple of glasses of wine, was $85.

Crabapple Farm Restaurant, 857 Main St., Clifton Park, 877-8202. Serving dinner Tue-Sat 5-9. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 19 December 2002

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